Materials that can repair themselves are generally a good thing, as they increase the lifespan of products created from them, and reduce the need for maintenance.
Biorenewable polymers are also pretty likable, as they reduce or even eliminate the need for petroleum products in plastic production, replacing them with plant-derived substances. Michael Kessler, an Iowa State University associate professor of materials science and engineering, and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, is now attempting to combine the two.
Self-healing materials generally incorporate microcapsules containing a liquid healing agent, and catalyst elements, which are embedded within the material’s matrix. As cracks form within the matrix, the microcapsules rupture, releasing the healing agent. As soon as that agent encounters the catalyst, it hardens into three-dimensional polymer chains, thus filling and securing the cracks. Such technology has been used not only to create self-healing plastics, but also self-healing concrete.